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March 2000
 
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Carnacki The Ghost-Finder by William Hope Hodgson (1913)

Mulder and Scully are hardly the first fictional spookchasers to ply their trade in our genre. Long before these postmodern ghostbusters began to lift ectoplasmic fingerprints, investigators such as Algernon Blackwood's John Silence and William Hope Hodgson's uni-cognomened Carnacki, supercilious resident of No. 472, Cheyne Walk, London, were called upon to wrestle with occult entities. In only nine strange stories, Carnacki managed to outfox numerous supernatural visitors to our plane--ranging from a jealous spectral horse to an horrific Ur-swine, from marine demons to a disembodied giant hand--as well as expose a number of hoaxers. Recounting his adventures from the safety of the fireside to four cipherish pals, including the frame-narrator, Dodgson, Carnacki veered between humility and arrogance. Often he would apologize along these lines: "I don't suppose you understand what I am trying to tell you, but I cannot make it any clearer." But he always ended every account by booting his buddies into the street with a hearty, "Out you go!"

Carnacki favored modern methods of spirit-trapping, including his Electric Pentacle and, in "The Hog," a rainbow ring of seven varicolored neon tubes. But he also relied on the wisdom contained in ancient codices, notably The Sigsand Manuscript. Hodgson's consistent "mythos"--his enemies dwelled in the "Outer Circles" that ringed our terrestial globe--and his apocryphal allusions to previous cases plainly paved the way for Lovecraft, an admirer of Hodgson and Carnacki.

William Hope Hodgson (1877-1918) will surely continue to be remembered more for such masterpieces as The House on the Borderland (1908) and The Night Land (1912). But had his career not been cut short in the trenches of WWI, he might have plumbed deeper into Carnacki's ghastly career.

—Paul Di Filippo

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